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Museum Musings: Whistler Mountain's 20th birthday

e-museum musings 29.07
Celebrants attempt to fit as many people as possible into Whistler Mountain’s original four-person gondola.

On Feb. 9, 1985, Whistler Mountain decided to celebrate its 20th birthday with events and contests held on the mountain and at the Gondola Base (today known as Creekside). The Whistler Question stated that the goal of the celebrations was to “make everyone remember the good old days of ’65,” with food prices in Pika’s from 1965 and an après party featuring music and styles from the 1960s. There was just one problem with this plan: in February 1965, no lifts had been built on Whistler Mountain yet. Whistler Mountain officially opened to the public on January 15, 1966, 19 years before. This did not stop the lift company from throwing itself a 20th birthday party and inviting everyone to join in the festivities.

On the mountain, the lift company organized a scavenger hunt, a special Ski Scamps and Parents race on Ego Bowl, and a Celebrity Masters Classic on the Lower Gondola Run (today part of Dave Murray Downhill). This last competition pitted celebrities of the ski industry against Whistler Mountain skiers, as well as allowing in “selected members of the media who can wear skis—and think at the same time.” For those who wanted to watch a spectacle rather than compete, the ski school performed a synchronized ski demonstration, and on the Saturday evening, 175 skiers participated in a torchlight parade down the mountain.

At the Gondola Base, the Gondola Stuffing Contest saw 27 kids stuffed into one four-person gondola, and at Dusty’s the 1960s-themed air band contest was won by Cate Webster’s group The Exciters. Outside, people danced to live music and ate a giant birthday cake.

The day before Whistler Mountain’s “birthday,” VIP meals had gathered together executives and staff from both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains to cut a much smaller cake. Though some invitees couldn’t make it (Seppo Makinen, whose crews cut the first runs on Whistler Mountain, was held up in Vancouver and missed “the first time in 20 years the lift company was going to pay for a meal”). President of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises Hugh Smythe, himself a former Garibaldi Lift Ltd. employee, was spotted wearing a Garibaldi’s Whistler Mountain T-shirt for the occasion.

Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday was also a chance for the company and the community to reflect on the past 20 (or 19) years and the changes they had seen in such a short time. Three founding members of the lift company were asked how they felt about the milestone for the Question’s “Whistler Answers” column. Makinen said it felt “really good. It’s nice to see,” and Franz Wilhelmsen, the founding president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., told the paper “I think it’s fantastic. It has fulfilled everyone’s wildest dreams, I think.” Stefan Ples, however, believed that at 20 years the ski operation was still young compared to European resorts, and had plenty of potential. Ples told the paper, “It’s hardly started.”

The fact that Whistler Mountain hadn’t been operating for quite 20 years yet was not important. The economy was coming out the other side of a major recession that had hit tourism and the town of Whistler quite hard, and hosting a party seemed like a great way to celebrate. The community seemed to agree, with more than 1,500 people joining in the festivities and showing that age really is just a number. 

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